An Ethical Look At Cognitive Stimulants, Part 1

adderallIS“Every era has its own defining drug.” – Margaret Talbot

With the high availability of so-called “cognitive enhancing drugs” like Ritalin, Adderall, and Provigil on college campuses, students everywhere are facing the choice of whether or not to take non-prescribed medications to help them “perform better” in school. Studies show that anywhere between 20-35% of college students have used one of these medications without a prescription in their college career, but an informal survey would likely reveal an even higher percentage, as the use of these medications is on the rise.  Many claim these drugs help them concentrate, study longer, and juggle more tasks by creating more productive hours in the day.  Others rely on them in a crunch, during midterms, finals, or the night before a big test, when the clock is ticking and assignments are due, and there doesn’t seem to be enough time –or brain power–to get everything that needs to get done, done.

The question of whether to use these “cognitive enhancing drugs” poses many ethical concerns– some rooted in the very immediate and direct impact of these drugs on the developing brains of young people, and some rooted more in what these drugs say philosophically about the direction our society is headed in.  And with the rate of use tripling within the past ten years, along with the fact that dozens of new cognitive stimulants are currently in the pharmaceutical pipeline, it seems an important issue to examine.  Should we embrace the use of these drugs, in hopes of them making us smarter, more efficient, and more productive?  Or should we be wary of using them, concerned with the risks that they pose not only to our brains, but to our own personal and societal values?

botPER25-25p-clr-for-F_278388-Small-300x258I think before launching into the ethical arguments surrounding the use of these medications, it’s important to consider the context within which they are used, particularly on college campuses. Why do students feel compelled to take these stimulants, and why has there been such a boom in their use? What kind of environment fuels the perceived need for these medications, originally developed for disorders of attention, but now so widely used by the general public?

One idea to consider is the general trend our society is taking towards having attentional problems across the board.   Cognitive stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin were originally developed to treat Attention Hyperactivity Disorder, a disorder characterized in part by inattentivity, distractibility, and trouble staying focused; but in our era of technological multi-tasking, where everyone’s attention seems strained, are we all suffering from an attention deficit?

With all of these technologies vying for our attention, is it any wonder that we have a hard time staying focused?

In his article “In Defense of Distraction,” Sam Anderson suggests we are experiencing a “crisis of attention”: and that “A quintessentially Western solution to the attention problem—one that neatly circumvents the issue of willpower—is to simply dope our brains into focus.”

Yet, no one needs an article or even an official decree from a psychologist to identify our deteriorating attention spans.  Just look around: most of us can hardly sit for any sustained period of time without checking our cell phones and our e-mail; we like things to be fast, and when they aren’t, we get frustrated. We expect instant communication and instant feedback; we even start getting antsy a few minutes into that YouTube video.  Our technologies have conditioned us to expect small bits of information, in quick surges, whether it be through Twitter, Facebook status updates, or one or two-sentence e-mail responses quickly transcribed on a Blackberry or iPhone. Even our news is increasingly transmitted in these small, quick packages. Across the board, technology is making things quicker and faster, causing us to spend less attention on each individual thing as we try to spend our attention on more things.

tumblr_kwzga1Zvjk1qz72dio1_500Indeed, we are currently experiencing an explosion of information in today’s “information age” where our cognitive loads are being challenged more than they ever have before.  Could this be said to drive the need for these medications? Just consider what an average student might be doing while trying to study: surfing the internet, checking e-mail, text-messaging, breezing through Facebook updates, listening to music, checking out a YouTube video and (let’s not forget) trying to study. With all of these inputs vying for our attention, with so much information to master, is it any wonder that we have a hard time staying focused?

Other factors surely contribute to this trend: the need for stimulants likely also stems from the immense amount of pressure students feel to get their work completed, in a time when school is more and more competitive, people are more high achieving, and there seems so much to do, and not enough time to do it in. Overwhelmed with school projects, balancing a social life, and the pressure to memorize all those Biology terms by your midterm can be daunting– sometimes, it might even seem impossible to get by without a little bit of help.  A student from a medical school chat forum went as far as to say it’s impossible to juggle school these days without the help of these drugs and live a normal life:

“The only people who get through the (med school) program I’m in either use stimulants or have no social life whatsoever. There is no other way. This is just the natural outcome of students being expected to memorize everything. The choice we’re being given is use drugs or fail.”

overwhelmed student

The pressure to juggle all of this academic pressure is certainly one driving force in the use of these drugs; but other students may use the medications less as a way to be a top, high-achieving student and more as a way to manage the day to day life of being in college, doing, well, everything college students do. In her article “Brain Gain” for The New Yorker Margaret Talbot interviewed a Harvard student with the pseudonym Alex, who said:

“I don’t think people who take Adderall are aiming to be the top person in the class…At the most basic level, they aim to do better than they would have otherwise.” He went on, “Everyone is aware of the fact that if you were up at 3 A.M. writing this paper it isn’t going to be as good as it could have been. The fact that you were partying all weekend, or spent the last week being high, watching ‘Lost’—that’s going to take a toll.”

Another student from the medical school chat forum chimed in,

“People use these medications because they’re lazy, and because they have no study habits. They’re a crutch for people who need a last minute way to get work done, fast.”

These examples seem to represent poles of a spectrum of students who take these medications – those who are seeking a high level of achievement and competitive edge, and those who are scrambling to get their papers done after slacking off all quarter – and of course, there is everyone in between, looking for a brain boost and a quick-fix way to get some help getting their work done.  In each case, the medication seems to offer a way of helping the student’s manage their workloads – including school, extra-curriculars, and even our attention-straining technologies – by giving them the opportunity to cram more work into their day.  But regardless of the reason, it is clear from the demand for these medications that there are people increasingly looking for ways to keep up – to pay attention, to stay on top, or even just to keep afloat.  And so the question one might ask, from an ethical perspective, is: “If there is a medication out there that might make it a little bit more manageable, why not take it?”

There are a number of arguments to consider when trying to address this question:

Are stimulants a tool for achievement?

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In the scientific journal Nature in 2008, Director of The Center for Law and Biosciences at Stanford University Henry Greely and his colleagues published an article entitled, “Towards The Responsible Use of Cognitive Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy,” promoting the view that using medications like Ritalin and Adderall would allow us to become more focused, productive, and attentive, and that we should therefore embrace their use, not for people suffering from ADHD but for anyone who is looking for a cognitive kick.

“We should welcome new methods of improving brain function,” Greely wrote.  “In a world in which human work spans and life spans are increasing, cognitive enhancement tools – including the pharmacological—will be increasingly useful for improved quality of life and extended work-productivity, as well as to stave off normal and pathological age-related cognitive declines.  Safe and effective cognitive enhancers will benefit both the individual and society.”

“Why would you want an upper limit on the intellectual capabilities of a human being?”

“Why would you want an upper limit on the intellectual capabilities of a human being?” Nicholas Selzter, interviewed in Margaret Talbot’s article, adds.  “Think about the complexity of the intellectual tasks that people need to accomplish today.  If we had a tool to enable more people to understand the world at a greater level of sophistication, how can we prejudice ourselves against the notion?”

Indeed, some studies have demonstrated the benefits these drugs can provide.  Yesavage et al showed that pilots performed better during a month long trial of 5 mg of donepezil (Aricept, a stimulant) in flight simulation tasks, particularly in responding to emergencies. Other studies have shown that these drugs can, in some cases, help people learn better: “Amphetamines in small doses can promote neural plasticity and accelerate motor learning,” notes  Anjan Chatterjee, in his article “Cosmetic Neurology” and other stimulants have been shown to increase performance on memory and learning tasks.  Chatterjee poses the question, “Could they be used in normal subjects at the time of skilled motor learning, such as swimming, playing piano, or skiing, to increase learning potential?”

When Hank Greely presented his argument at Santa Clara last year, he put forth the idea that these drugs should be viewed as “tools” that can help people perform better, much like other tools we use to think better, for example, like a computer can serve as an instrument to help execute tasks more readily and efficiently and eyeglasses can help people see better. Some external tool that provides a leg up in studying, he says, is not much different from a medication that does the same thing; and if both can help us think, memorize, and perform better, than why close off the option of Ritalin just because it’s a “drug”?

tools“No one gets very worried if I enhance my eyesight by using binoculars, or if I enhance my memory using writing,” he said. “We don’t worry about “Google” as somehow an inappropriate enhancement.  We get more worried when we are changing our bodies and our changing our brains, but I’m not really sure we should be.  No one gets bent out of shape about the idea that people are using reading glasses as an evil enhancement because they are a tool.”

Greely suggests that we condone other types of “neural enhancement” with no moral problem. He writes, “research has identified beneficial neural changes engendered by exercise, nutrition, and sleep as well as instruction and reading…. cognitive enhancement drugs seem morally equivalent to other, more familiar enhancements.”

“Given the many cognitive-enhancing tools we accept already, why draw the line here, and say, thus far but no further?”

And later, puts forth the question directly: “Given the many cognitive-enhancing tools we accept already, from writing to laptop computers, why draw the line here (at giving medication), and say, thus far but no further?”

Greely’s argument essentially asks us to consider, why should influencing the brain directly using medication be considered different from using other external aids to help you study?

I think the argument is an interesting one, for it asks us to determine which technologies we consider appropriate to use to help us be more efficient and productive, and which ones we don’t.  Are we to view cognitive enhancing drugs merely as a tool that aids with a task like focus or memorization in the same way a tutor or making flashcards can help us memorize information?  And if these medications are merely a tool, should they be allowed in the same way students are permitted to use other types of study aids?  Should students come to rely on these medications with the same familiarity and comfort level that they rely on using a calculator on a math test?  Should they then be readily available to all students who want to use them?

His argument also raises the question, Why do we accept some forms of enhancement and not others?  Why do we condone a laptop or calculator as an appropriate tool, but not a medication? Does it have to do with the differences in their direct impact on the brain?  If so, then is there a moral difference between using a prescription medication and using large amounts of caffeine, which could elicit similar mental and physiological effects?

Another argument related to this idea of using stimulants as tools for achievement is whether it is “fair” for people to enhance their thinking using these drugs.  Is taking medications to achieve better simply another way to get one’s work done, or is it a form of cheating?

Would it be fair? Is taking a stimulant a form of cheating?

Do cognitive stimulants give an unfair advantage to some students over others?  Does it create an unjust environment where those who can afford or are willing to take the drugs are given an unfair leg up over those who don’t?  Is it “fair” that some students can afford to purchase such enhancements when others can’t?

In her article Brain Gain, Margaret Talbot writes,

“At many colleges, students have begun calling the off-label use of neuroenhancers a form of cheating. Writing last year in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia, a columnist named Greg Crapanzano argued that neuroenhancers “create an unfair advantage for the users who are willing to break the law in order to gain an edge. These students create work that is dependent on the use of a pill rather than their own work ethic.”

steroidsThe question about cheating inevitably draws an analogy between using cognitive steroids to boost the mind and using steroids in athletic to boost physical strength. We generally acknowledge that using steroids in sports is unfair — it’s even illegal: so is doping our minds and different from doping our bodies?

Scientist Anders Sandberg says there should be no distinction, and that “cognitive doping” should be treated much like steroids are treated in sports: “If the goal of education is a competition for high grades, then the drugs would be a kin to doping and only add an unfair positional advantage to users…”

Yet others disagree, claiming that taking these medications is no different from other techniques students use to try to do better in school – invoking an argument similar to Greely.  One student writing about this topic said,

“Taking a study drug, while unhealthy and risky, should neither be considered illegal nor unethical…it’d be akin to saying studying for extra hours is somewhat unfair. How a person stays up has always been private business and varies person to person…Taking a study drug (should be) no more illegal than taking caffeine. Those who can afford to do more, get more. This is far from cheating, which is getting what you didn’t work for.  Debating whether drugs are fair is to debate whether we should compete at all.”

I think this argument is important to consider. Would the advantage given to those who are willing to take the drug be unfair over those who are unwilling to take the drugs? And would people start feeling coerced into taking the drugs if that was the only way to achieve at that level, much like athletes feel the pressure to take steroids in order to compete at the same level?  Extending it out, one might ask, what would happen from a distributive justice perspective if wealthy people have access to these cognitive drugs but people who can’t afford them don’t?  Would the gap between the rich and the poor widen?

Is there value in hard work that is undermined by using these drugs?

Another interesting perspective to consider is what role these drugs play in our conceptions of personhood. Have you ever had the experience of working so genuinely hard on something, and reaping the great rewards as a result of your genuine hard work?  Would this experience be undermined if you had relied on an artificial method of enhancement – a drug – in order to complete it?

Anjan Chatterjee’s article “Cosmetic Neurology” raises this concern, questioning what impact cognitive stimulants have on our concepts of character.  He takes the view that taking cognitive stimulants is indeed cheating, and therefore that taking these medications would erode our character. “Getting a boost without doing the work is cheating,” Chaterjee puts forth.  “And cheating cheapens us.”

ATestChatterjee also raises another interesting point, which is that these medications challenge the principle of accomplishing something on one’s own good will. Just like we don’t like it when athletes break records doped up on steroids, Chatterjee says, shouldn’t we hold the same judgment when someone “performs well” on a stimulant? We have long adopted the view that struggling builds character, and that eliminating pain altogether erodes that character.  In other words, the genuine hard work we put into things is important, and avenues that circumvent that hard work or augment them unfairly, undermines the entire achievement.  This issue seems particularly relevant in academia, where the analogy with steroid use in sports seems apt: would you respect a person less knowing they use a drug to enhance their thinking, much like we are disappointed by an athlete who engages in artificial enhancement?  If someone earns an A on a paper written on medication, are they as “worthy” of that A as they would be if they hadn’t taken it?

If you earn an A on a paper written on medication, are you as “worthy” of that A as you would be if you hadn’t taken it?

And one wonders, too, about the value of hard work, and whether it is lost in the midst of a stimulant-driven haze: is it really as valuable an experience to crank out a 10 page paper in one night on Ritalin as it is to work on it over time, sit with it, and truly learn from it?

Another question to consider in regards to personhood and values involves looking more generally at what types of thinking these medications encourage, and whether they are the types of thinking we want to be promoting. If we are to embrace the use of these drugs, then what value judgments are we placing on the idea that this type of alert productivity is necessarily the best type of thinking?

We automatically call medication that stimulates alertness “cognitive enhancement” – but should we?  It is well known that stimulants help people to focus, be more attentive, and more alert; yet, calling this type of thinking “cognitive enhancement” is not a technical term but rather a value judgment. Are there “cognitive trade-offs”  to these drugs — other valuable ways of thinking that these medications shut out? In creating a focused, attentive state of mind, what cognitive capacities might these drugs be undermining?


Indeed, many neuroscientists suggest that in promoting this type alert, “efficient” thinking, other types of thinking are de-emphasized in the brain.  Talbot notes:

“Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative,” adding, stimulants “facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.”

Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and author of “How We Decide,” adds that these cognitive stimulants can negatively impact creativity and prevent the type of thinking that leads to insightful breakthroughs.  To achieve better focus, he says on his blog The Frontal Cortex, there can be a trade off of more creative ways of thinking:

“While it’s commonly assumed that the best way to solve a difficult problem is to focus, minimize distractions, and pay attention only to the relevant details, this clenched state of mind may inhibit the sort of creative connections that lead to sudden breakthroughs.”

RitalinTypingMany students may relate to this point: those who take these medications talk about how the papers they write on Ritalin or Adderall are long-winded, and obsessive about certain points, perhaps indicating this certain type of thinking that these drugs emphasize over others.  The student Alex interviewed in Talbot’s article said, “Often, I’ve looked back at papers I’ve written on Adderall, and they’re verbose.  They’re belaboring a point, trying to create this airtight argument, when if you just got to your point in a more direct manner it would be stronger.  With Adderall I’d produce two pages on something that could be said in a couple of sentences.”

What effect would medicating the “wandering mind” have on insights that come precisely because the mind is wandering?

So, while these drugs may help with memorization and focus, are they limiting the type of thinking that can enhance analysis, creativity, and open-mindedness? Might a student, in thinking they are creating better work on stimulants, actually be cutting themselves off from different, more creative ways of approaching their assignments?  And what does it say about a society that is placing value on shutting out these more creative types of thinking, in favor of what Talbot calls “a grindingly efficient form of productivity?”

One wonders if in trying to gain one type of thinking, we would be losing out on another.  Hasn’t everyone had the experience of a stroke of insight while falling asleep or taking a shower – times when the mind is not “pinched and attentive”, but precisely the opposite?  What effect would medicating the “wandering mind” have on insights that come precisely because the mind is wandering?

Do the risks justify the gains?


A final point to consider is the risks these drugs pose, which are an important feature to examine when looking at any technological tool. Indeed, the argument that stimulants could benefit society should not be presented without a fair look at how they could also limit or pose a risk to society as well.  So do the risks of these medications justify the gains?

It is generally accepted that there is a difference between therapy and enhancement — in other words, that there is a moral difference between giving someone a treatment to alleviate suffering caused by a disease and giving someone treatment when they are healthy in order to make them even better. For those who take these medications for attentional disorders, the risks of these medications are considered in balance with the disorder the person is suffering from; one assesses the risks of the medications with the severity of symptoms of ADHD and decides that it is worthwhile to manage the side-effects if the medication alleviates the symptoms of the disorder. But if we proliferate these medications to the general “healthy” public, are the potential benefits of alertness and attentiveness –which don’t necessary to alleviate suffering in any strict sense but are rather just a preferred or “enhanced” way of functioning– worth the potential harm?  Is it ethical to take these drugs, intended to treat disorders, purely for the sake of enhancement?

Is it ethical to take these drugs, intended to treat disorders, purely for the sake of enhancement?

Another idea to consider is at what cost we are willing to enhance ourselves — and whether we accurately assess that cost when pursuing new modes of enhancement.  It seems that often when looking at new technologies the potential benefits are lauded and the risks are downplayed, and this issue is no different. Hank Greely’s argument, for example, suggests that we shouldn’t necessarily view Adderall and Ritalin any differently from the way we view glasses that correct our vision: what makes them different, if they are both tools to make us better?

The somewhat obvious response to Greely’s argument is that there are potentially far greater risks to taking these medications than there are to using eyeglasses, or a laptop, or calculators.  Indeed, stimulants known side effects include nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, and cardiac problems, and are classified as having a high potential for abuse.   Increased risk of ideations of suicide, as well as increased cases of cardiac arrest that have led to death have been reported, and have led to the FDA instituting a “black box” warning on most stimulant medications.  Many students who take these medications experience abnormal sleep and eating patterns, some not sleeping or eating anything substantial for long periods at a time, and can experience increased anxiety and even stimulant-induced psychosis.  And while some who use stimulants casually do so with few side effects, these more serious effects should not be overlooked: for those students who have experienced them, or for parents whose children suffered cardiac deaths or suicide, these effects are not exaggerated or embellished but very real, and important to bring to light.

There  seems to exist a view, both because the medications are so popular and because they are not “street drugs” but prescription drugs, that these medications are generally safe to take without one’s own prescription; but this is a powerful misperception. Indeed, prescription medications are not safe merely because they are available through prescription; drugs, prescribed or not, carry with them risks and side effects that can vary from person to person, and in some cases may have drastic effects.  Furthermore, taking a prescription medication for which you yourself don’t have a prescription –sharing a prescription with a roommate, or selling pills at the library– can be a dangerous undertaking, particularly when mixed in with a college lifestyle of alcohol and perhaps even other drugs. The toxicity of stimulants increases significantly when mixed with alcohol; and without a proper discussion with a doctor, a student is at risk to experience these dangers without a proper avenue set up to assess his or her own safety.


We simply don’t know how these drugs are metabolized by those for whom these medications were unintended and remain untested

Moreover, if we are to advocate the proliferation of these drugs in the widespread population, we must acknowledge that the effects of cognitive stimulating medications in the healthy has never been formally studied.  We simply don’t know how these drugs are metabolized by these “healthy,” non-ADHD individuals, for whom these stimulants were unintended and remain untested.  And given that we are essentially the first generation of people who are using these medications so widely and for such long periods of time, the long-term risks are still unknown.   As Margaret Talbot writes, the effects of these drugs are being discovered “furtively, amongst the increasing number of Americans who are performing daily experiments on their own brains.”

So where do the risks of these drugs factor into the ethical debate? And in light of these issues, it seems important to ask, it is ethical to present the idea that these medications can be a tool for an achievement without acknowledging these very real drawbacks?  Advocating the use of these drugs based on the premise that there is no substantive difference between them and a laptop or a pair of eyeglasses, particularly in a school setting, seems not only misinformed, but irresponsible.  And one wonders, what impact does promoting these drugs as simply “tools for achievement” without a full acknowledgement of these risks have on a student’s perceptions of taking these medications?

Ultimately, is the argument really simply between choosing to take these medication to become “smarter”, and choosing not to take them and staying the same?  Or should it really be presented as a cost-benefit, where the idea of taking these medications to achieve attentiveness and focus is posed alongside the potential for these very real side effects?

Each of these issues – what effect these medications would have for academic competition, what effects they might have on concepts of personhood and thinking, and what the risks are, converges on one question: What might a neuro-enhanced society look like?

If Greely and others are to be believed, we have the opportunity to become smarter, more productive, and more focused by embracing the use of cognitive stimulants.  Why try to do less, when we could medicate ourselves to be able to do more?  Who, as Nicholas Selzter said, would want an upper limit on productivity?

Might we imagine a time when employers expect—or even require – employees to take these drugs to achieve better?

Yet from a critical perspective, consider some of the potential fall out: might we imagine a time when employers expect—or even require – employees to take these drugs to achieve better? Could hospitals require doctors to take drugs in order to be more alert on their late night shifts?  Pilots to take the drugs for long trips?  Would the people undergoing surgery, or flying on the planes, come to expect these professionals to take them as well? Could it lead to an environment where students feel coerced or compelled to take drugs to perform better, in the same way some athletes may feel compelled to take steroids to keep up with competition?  Would we live in a society where, as Margaret Talbot writes, “we give children academic steroids along with their daily vitamins”?

The idea that we need to ‘enhance’ ourselves is certainly a persuasive one: it is clear we have increasing demands not only on our cognition but on the amount we are physically expected to accomplish in a given day — and it makes sense that we would feel the drive to need to keep up.   But as Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins says in Talbot’s article, “Maybe it’s wrong-footed to fit people into the world, rather than trying to make the world a better place for people.”

A perspective to consider is this: to what future are we committing ourselves?  If we continue the effort to achieve, accomplish more, produce more, compete more, the cycle of needing to modify our brains to keep up will continue. It’s almost certain that in ten years from now, the debate will have moved on from the ethical issues of cognitive stimulating medications to the ethical implications of brain implants, or other types of even more invasive brain modifications. Will we want to continue the road to increasing our brain function indefinitely, to keep up with our own technological demands?  Is there a point at which we should decide we are busy enough, productive enough, and smart enough now?   In reality, the expectations placed upon students and those in the workplace – the demands for a non-stop, blackberry fueled workday, or the barrels of homework on top of extra curricular activities and day-to-day life – will only continue to grow if we as a society allow it too.  And our pursuit towards keeping up – whether it be with medications now, or brain implants down the line–will have to continue as well.

StopwatchI would argue that the use of cognitive stimulants – a technological tool in and of themselves– is intricately tied to our relationship with the increasing use of technology in all areas of our lives, and that to look at the issue of “cognitive enhancement” one would need to examine what effect all of this technology could be said to be having on our lives in general: on our attention spans (those attention spans which we feel compelled to take pills in order to get a handle on); on the belief that a better society is one that is more productive, efficient, and fast; and on the idea that if we can do something, we can always do it faster, and better.

I think Talbot makes an interesting point in her article, about what road we may be paving for ourselves:

“All this may be leading to a kind of society I’m not sure I want to live in,” she writes. “A society where we are even more overworked and driven by technology than we already are and where we have to take drugs to keep up.”


As technology continues to develop, more medications that can influence our brain chemistry –and eventually, more technologies, whether they be brain implants or currently inconceived of brain modifications — will be marketed as the next big thing in cognitive enhancement.  One could either say these scenarios present an opportunity to create more advancements using technology, or take the view that we have created a problem through technology that we are trying to solve using more technology.  Either way, it seems important to establish firm ethical guidelines about how we are to handle these issues.  If not, the use of these technologies will continue to be dictated by social pressure, rather than by principle.

It’s hard to separate out the “ethical” uses of these drugs form their neurological risks; the philosophical principles raised by this issue– as with many issues in technology and health — are somewhat separate from the real life risks these technologies pose. I think it’s important to acknowledge though, particularly in light of articles such as Greely’s which praise “smart drugs” but somewhat dismiss their risks, that the use of cognitive stimulants amongst people – amongst children, students, and those in the workplace– is an ongoing, uncontrolled experiment.   And moving forward, it seems important that we frame the argument appropriately.  Cognitive stimulants are not “smart pills”– indeed, no one takes Ritalin and becomes Einstein, or learns their entire Biology textbook instantaneously.  Rather, cognitive stimulants are drugs that manipulate brain chemistry in a way that, in many people – but certainly not all – increases their ability to focus and pay attention, and often to sleep less and work more.  Choosing to encourage the use of these medications is not promoting becoming “smarter,” necessarily, but promoting a type of brain state associated with these effects, among other, less desirable ones as well.


But the question at hand is not merely about whether students, or people in general, should take drugs to become “smarter.”   Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is whether the pursuit of these “cognitive enhancing drugs” would really be enhancing our lives at all.  Might we look deeper into this debate, and challenge some of the assumptions upon which it rests?  Maybe we should challenge the idea that these drugs are enhancing the way we think, by making us more alert and more “grindingly efficient.”  Maybe we should challenge whether this type of uber-efficient, speed-driven, hyper-productive society is really the type of society we want to be promoting.  Maybe we should focus not so much on the question of whether students should take these medications, but on where the perceived need for these medications arises — on what it says about an academic environment where there is so much pressure to focus, to be more productive, and to get more work done that students feel they need medications just in order to keep up.  Maybe we should reframe the debate, and ask ourselves whether it is our conception of what it means to be “enhanced” that is really what needs to be modified.


Consider some of the ethical arguments surrounding the issue of cognitive stimulants: is taking a cognitive stimulant without a prescription unethical?  Does it constitute cheating? Should it be viewed as “cognitive doping,” akin to using steroids in athletics?  Does it undermine one’s ‘personhood’ by helping one to avoid the challenges of discipline and failure? Do the risks of the medications justify the gains?

What role do societal pressures — academic, social, and technological — play in this debate? How does our relationship with technology factor into our approach to the use of cognitive stimulating medications?

Want to Read More? Check out these articles:
Brain Gain by Margaret Talbot
Cosmetic Neurology by Anjan Chatterjee
Towards the Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy by Henry Greely et al.
Stimulant Use Amongst Professional Students by Alison Hayward et al.
In Defense of Distraction by Sam Anderson

Watch a CBS News segment called “Adderall U” featuring an interview with two students who take cognitive stimulants:

Part 2:

33 Responses to “An Ethical Look At Cognitive Stimulants, Part 1”

  1. Danny W says:

    In today’s increasingly competitive society, the use of cognitive enhancing drugs is not going to subside anytime soon. That being said, I think these drugs are fairly dangerous. Everyone responds to drugs differently, and when many people are using many different types of drugs, there are bound to be negative side effects, even if there are some positive outcomes. When an individual (or, even more, a society) becomes dependent on these drugs, the danger is increased. For these reasons, I believe people should approach the issue of cognitive stimulants with an eye toward ethics.

    In some cases, cognitive stimulants can be beneficial and even necessary for individuals and organizations to be successful. However, I would urge people against using them for the catch-up method of studying described in this article. As long as performance enhancing drugs are not completely necessary, they should not be considered because of the slippery slope bringing the user on the path to addiction.

    Pharmaceutical drugs are still drugs and it would be hypocritical to ignore their drawbacks and give them our full support. But their benefits are impossible to ignore. Therefore, middle ground must be found regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs.

    • carrie litchman says:

      These drugs are indeed very dangerous. However, I think that a properly regulated regimen of “cognitive enhancing” drugs could be suitable for increasing focus and productivity. From a utilitarian perspective, these drugs have the potential to do more good than harm. I do not see a problem with trying to increase our brain’s capacity. The more we learn, the better we can contribute to society. I recently attended a lecture by Henry Greely, and many of his arguments were well-supported and convincing.
      The main issue I have with cognitive enhancing drugs is the lack of empirical evidence that they actually enhance performance in non-ADHD individuals. It is likely that much of the positive results people experience comes from mere expectation. If future studies are able to demonstrate a significant improvement in performance after taking these medications, I think that they are a reasonable method for enhancing learning and performance (as long as they are strictly regulated).

      • Justin_Thomsen says:

        To begin with, while Greely may make decent points, the very notion that cognitive stimulants are on par with glasses or computers is laughable. Glasses or computers exist OUTSIDE the body. A laptop to write versus handwriting or a typewriter and glasses versus normal eyesight do not actually alter one’s own capacities. They simply allow one to maximize their own natural potential. This is a subtle but crucial difference in understanding why cognitive stimulants are very unique from other “tools” that we use to help us succeed in our academic pursuits.

        Ultimately, exams, term papers, quizzes, etc. are about more than just whether we can regurgitate facts in any given subject. They very truly test our time management skills. They test our study habits. In the real world, nobody will care one bit whether you got an B+ or an A- in Philosophy 80. But they will care if you can be given a complex task, with a set time limit to do it, and you can successfully (and outstandingly) complete it. These are the most useful life-skills that college has to offer.

        Frankly, I believe it’s less about deceiving one’s professors (which it is) and gaining an unfair advantage over one’s peers (which it is) than it is about cheating yourself. By using cognitive stimulants without a valid medical reason, a student is only shortchanging herself. She does not work to develop the time management and work ethic skills that are necessary in the “real world.” She might learn the particular information easier, she might learn more information before an exam. But the life-skills that are just as important as learning raw information will be cast aside, because the drug can do it for her.

        This seems like a minor worry, but its implications are astounding. Say the student who relies upon Adderall lands an excellent entry-level job after graduation. After a few months, she is assigned an important, but work-intensive project that if successfully completed will guarantee a promotion. For one reason or another (drug testing or perhaps unavailability) she cannot use any of the drug. This will be no mere matter of having to stay up to do the work. Her work is much more likely to be unprofessionally shoddy because she won’t have developed the work ethic she needed and she won’t be able to focus because her dependency on the drug will inhibit her now-handicapped natural attention-span.

        Altering the human body, especially on a neurochemical level, is no mere “tool.” It is a fundamental change to the body. Cognitive stimulants, when used to assist handicapped individuals return to an “average” cognitive baseline pose no ethical issues. However, when used for the purposes of simply enhancing a perfectly healthy individual’s mind, there are plenty of ripe moral problems.

        After all, even if we cast aside the “cheating oneself” argument, which unfortunately I doubt many people will take seriously (though a serious matter it certainly is) because it is concerned with long-term negative effects over short-term positive results, there are still the legitimate issues of academic dishonesty. Performance evaluations of any sort in the classroom are designed to assess one student’s ability, understanding, and dedication. Frankly, how can those evaluations be meaningful if we are not sure whether or not we are evaluating a “normal” (admittedly a broad term) student or a drug-enhanced student? I don’t think that they can. It is dishonest to one’s peers. Again, especially in an academic department that limits the number of A’s, B’s, etc, it is simply prima facie wrong to attain one of those results for oneself through prohibited methods. It’s not a matter of “if I’m not caught, they’ll never know, so it won’t hurt them;” it’s a matter of taking something that does not belong to you. Frankly, you have not earned your results if you used those drugs. And to the extent that your results made somebody else’s lower because of a curved grading method, you have committed a serious wrong against him.

        Lastly, I strongly worry about arguments that utility justifies this. I think your argument is unfortunately short-sighted. It sees only that the use of cognitive stimulants will cause productivity to go up. But if productivity goes up, we set a new standard–a standard that people who elect not to use drugs will increasingly fail to meet. In order to keep up with the rigors of new standards, the choices will be to maintain one’s natural bodily integrity or to compromise it for the sake of productivity and performance. It is one thing to tell somebody that they either need to type an essay on a computer or not pass (after all, computers are provided all over campus for student use). It is a wholly different thing to tell students that they need to neurochemically alter their brains or not pass. That does not seem like utility to me. That seems authoritarian– and quite undesirable. Our standards should remain HUMAN standards–not chemically-altered-human standards. Though I hesitate to even give much credence to a utilitarian morality, even from that standpoint, there is a legitimate argument that keeping our ideals and standards human are greater goods than any minor productivity increase could ever offer.

      • msavage says:

        I have to agree with Justin that a utilitarian approach would not justify the use of these neuro-enhancing drugs, though for a slightly different reason than he stipulated. A utilitarian ethical theory demands that we promote the greatest possible aggregate happiness for the greatest number of people. I question whether the society that would be produced from an acceptance of these drugs would promote this very happiness that utilitarianism demands. The philosopher Langdon Winner argues this very point when he comments on modern technology’s drive towards a faster paced life that is focused only on maximizing productivity and consumption. I agree with Winner’s point, and I think that the author of this article is accurate when as she describes society progressing further on this path towards greater productivity and increased lifestyle pace should these drugs be incorporated into everyday use. I would argue that this would in fact decrease the overall happiness within a society.

        Increased focus leading to greater productivity would only beget a demand for more productivity. Activities such as family meals, which are already diminishing, would become a thing of the past. Decreased appetites would mean no need for lunch breaks which means less social interaction in the workplace. There would be no time for a walk in the park, or star gazing, or even philosophical thought. Human creativity would indeed suffer at the hands of productivity, a danger considering the amazing human achievements that have come from creative, critical thinking. Poetry, philosophy, and art would be deemed useless and a time wasting pursuits. Culture as we know it would be sacrificed to the demands of productivity and efficiency.

        One of the worst products of these drugs is also its effects on the educational system as a whole. Rather than creating an environment that promotes a desire for knowledge and a passion for learning, students will be driven simply to complete the work in front of them in the quickest, most efficient way. There is no cause to take the time to really understand and appreciate the material because of how quickly it can be knocked out, as well as to keep up with other work that needs to be done. In this sense taking these drugs is cheating, as it cheats students out of an education that develops critical thinking, application, and applied knowledge, and instead turns them into robotic paper producers and fact memorizers. That is not a society that I particularly care to be a part of.

      • Sara Phillips says:

        I completely agree with Justin’s argument, in every point that he articulates. The use of cognitive drugs not only depreciates the work ethic of individuals, it also cheats other students who are not using the drugs, and reveals a lack of time management skills that are an inherent part of the grade a student receives for their completed work. I totally agree with Justin’s argument that the assignments we receive are not only a test of our understanding of material but also of our time management abilities. When will a computer engineer ever use the information he must memorize for chemistry class? Quite frankly, hardly ever. However, chemistry is still a core requirement. For college students it is more about how you learn to manage your time in spite of the hundreds of chemistry vocabulary words you must memorize. In the real world, we will be expected to manage time effectively. How would an employer like to know that the only way one of their employees can do work is on a cognitive stimulant? Why not give that position to an individual who independently learned how to efficiently manage their time and get the job done. Because they can’t afford a drug like Adderall? That’s unfair.

        I don’t think that drugs that alter the mind can in anyway be compared to technological tools like computers or calculators. These things don’t require a prescription and can be accessed by all students. In fact, schools provide computer labs for students so that every student on a college campus has access to these tools. By allowing some students to take cognitive enhancements, how can other students who are not taking the drug feel like they can compete? This further encourages students to rely on a drug like Adderall and eventually, we will be right back where we started with everyone on an equal playing field. And then what? We’ll make another drug that will make our brains work even faster. When is enough, enough?

        I think perhaps that we should focus on the work ethic our society emphasizes and the reason behind why so many students feel pressured to take a drug like Adderall. Why are students given such tremendous amounts of work to complete? This seems unreasonable. Why must they memorize 2000 vocabulary terms in one night? This kind of information is readily available and can be looked up within a matter of seconds in a dictionary. Why not give students less tedious work and more meaningful work, that way they will be able to concentrate on the things that count and not feel pressured to finish outrageous assignments in a matter of hours.

    • christine says:

      In response to your second paragraph I wanted to point out that there is a fine line between when using these performance enhancing drugs are “necessary” and when they are not. It is a tough situation because one must decide: when is it necessary? We may be tempted to say, “Well, it is necessary when we need them to accomplish certain tasks and have no other options.” However, the issue with this is that as we slowly decide that it is necessary to use these drugs in this situation and that situation, the necessity for these enhancements grow at a continuous rate. Much in the way that many theorists believe technology creates its own needs, these drugs will (if they have not already) begin to create their own needs as well. This is just as we see the point made in the article, “If we continue the effort to achieve, accomplish more, produce more, compete more, the cycle of needing to modify our brains to keep up will continue.” As more people decide that it is “necessary” to use these drugs the need for them will only increase in order to keep up with this raised bar of efficiency. Like many pointed out in the article, if we start to head in this direction it is only a matter of time until the people who are not taking these drugs suffer from a major disadvantage because the majority of the rest of the class is depending on them.

      On the flip side of this, I do see how taking these performance enhancing drugs can advance our cognitive productivity and possibly open doors to many new ideas and advancements. The question then becomes: at what costs are we willing to pay for these advances in mankind.

      • christine says:

        (just in case it was unclear this was a response to Danny W’s post)

      • StephieDav says:

        Response to Danny W:
        I agree that there are benefits to using the drugs, that is undeniable, but I’m not sure I can agree with your claim that they should be used for purposes other than “catch up”. As someone who has a family member with ADD, I recognize the benefits afforded to those who take medications like adderall or ritalin, but I don’t think that they should be used to give people a competitive edge or advantage. How will you know what you’re capable of if you’re taking performance enhancing drugs? I believe human growth is hindered by performance enhancing drugs.

    • Molly Quigley says:

      I believe that Anderson’s article is very relevant and I feel as though I have first hand experience with this specific societal issue living on a college campus. My experience with Aderol is that students use it to write papers in small amount of times and to cram for a test after procrastinating. I do not see the use of Aderol in order to increase performance but to complete assignments on time and still get a good grade when not giving oneself ample time to study. A lot of the times, it seems as though its an issue of laziness, or wanting the desired results without putting in the necessary effort. I think this reflects a reoccuring theme in America’s youth: immediate gratification. Students want A’s and they want them immediately without setting aside an entire Saturday to write that “A” paper.
      I also agree with Anderson’s point that we all have ADD in the sense that we have so many distractions sourrouding us everyday. Maybe students put things off and don’t put in the required effort because they are distracted by the temptation to be on Facebook or their constantly vibrating cell phone in the library. I believe that this issue needs to be addressed and people need to take some time where they aren’t always available to others through technology and they can really divulge themselves in their study.
      Personally, I agree with the comment in class that I would feel as though I was cheating if I used performance enhancing drugs. It would not seem as though it was actually me achieving good grades instead of the drug achieving the good grade. Certainly, this is an issue that will need to be settled in the current generation.

  2. kevin Laymoun says:

    The issue for surrounding the usage of cognitive stimulants is a highly complex issue that attracts criticism from many angles, but I will comment solely on the moral implications that it has on humanity as a whole.
    I will begin by saying that the rising use of cognitive stimulants in society is indicative of a dangerous trend that implies the obsession humanity has with efficiency and productivity. Society is structured so that quality is no longer the lone hallmark for success; it is now coupled with speed. Our society is built upon speed because technology has largely taken care of the desire for perfection. Mechanics have proven far superior to the erroneous nature of the human being, so what little tasks we humans can perform need to be in rhythm with the incredible pace of technology. The result is that all forms of work are now asking individuals to produce a greater amount in less time. Enter the desire for cognitive stimulants.
    In a sense Anderson is correct in saying society as a whole suffers from attention deficit disorder. This notion is justifiable because society measures itself in respect to technology, and in this comparison humans are indeed “deficient”. The problem is that society attempts to emulate technology. Its perfection and speed are viewed as things that should be matched, and it is an endeavor that humanity has been pursuing, seemingly ignoring that humans are clearly not capable of such lofty expectations. However, the advent of cognitive stimulants indicate that society recognizes humanity is inferior to technology and therefore has pledged to use technology to morph itself into a more efficient and advanced life form.
    In my experiences students normally use Adderall to cram for papers or finals. The use of it during times when schoolwork is minimal is nonexistent. However, the amount of students who turn to such ‘cognitive aids’ is astounding and represents the popular desire for improved cognitive activity rather than its natural work rate. Obliviously most individuals would prefer increased ability when it is available, and it is the ease with which one makes the decision to cognitively augment themselves that begs the question: is it feasible to limit the productivity of humanity? And if not what will happen to humanity? My belief is that humanity will stop at nothing to improve itself regardless of our departure from the traditional image of the human being. Whether we become bionic folk who can leap fifty feet or simply compute situations at break-neck speeds, the issue will be the loss of our “humanity”.
    By “humanity” I mean the present form that we are in. If we use this as our definition of humanity then I believe in a thousand years we will probably be unrecognizable. The question is too easy: would you like to achieve more? The answer is yes to most people, and if not to some then the answer to the question, “would you like to fit in”, will take care of the rest. Human will power is the lone argument against the complete transformation of humanity into a “species” motivated only by technological gains. The argument is that humans will recognize the moral implications of their actions before it is too late and put an end to such practices that would jeopardize our “humanity”. However, this argument seems to carry very little weight in my experiences. I personally know three individuals who posses prescriptions to Adderall who do not actually require them. They have told me that they only use the Adderall to cram and sell for profit. Those who ‘need’ Adderall are on the drug usually eight hours a day in order to maintain focus on even the most minute of tasks. The incredible popularity amongst doctors to diagnose their patients as having “ADD” is alarming and it reminds me of the warnings issued by Martin Heidegger. He wrote that technology would grow to envelope humanity so much so that it would allow humanity the perception that it still maintained control over its own destiny. When in fact humanity no longer had any control. The trivial diagnosis of ADD seems to be technology’s way of allowing us to believe that we are actually correcting a real problem with the human brain. However, the fact remains our use of cognitive stimulants is with the goal to improving efficiency and productivity, a fact that will eventually result in the mechanization of the human being.

    • Dmeyers says:

      I want to tangent from Kevin’s point and echo Sam Anderson in his assertion that humanity’s recent trend is to ‘dope our brains into focus’. Clearly, as our lives become more and more intertwined with technology and our ability to do more, quicker is increasing exponentially, it doesn’t take a lot to realize that some sort of mind altering drug is a necessity on the horizon. Study drugs, as the medical school student described, are being increasingly used to learn more in a shorter amount of time and with less energy.

      While I do agree that this has become an inescapable and incessant trend in modern academia, I trace the roots of the problem all the way back to the doctor’s office. To me, the issue lies in our obsession with categorizing, diagnosing, and marginalizing all aspects of humanity. We have some subconscious human tendency to hastily label something that is not perceived as ‘normal’. This relates to the doctor in that a physician will be happy to diagnose an adolescent (doctor makes more money) with Attention Deficit Disorder so long as the child is displaying some behavior that ISN’T calm and focused…like a ‘normal’ child should be. In many cases, it is highly likely that the child felt external pressures from society to fit-in and be normal and that any strain of focus or increase in energy is a flaw that needs to be professionally diagnosed and suppressed with medication. I have a friend who was diagnosed with ADHD and I don’t see him as any different from anyone else in the way he acts (when he is not on his medication, of course). It seems like my friend was diagnosed because he may be a bit more hyper at times, but who isn’t? Is that really grounds for diagnosing and heavily medicating someone? Not to mention marginalizing him from society in that he is ‘not normal’. The ethical question of uniformity is apparent here: my friend felt a bit different from his other friends – nothing overly serious or life-altering, just an increase in energy and infrequent occasions where he is easily distracted – so he went to the doctor to get it diagnosed, treated, and suppressed; now he is normal again, like everyone else.

      Our overly-eager obsession with diagnosing and treating every little ‘flaw’ in people is the indirect link to the increased usage of study drugs. Having a diagnosis for every single ‘flaw’ in people seems shockingly barbaric. In an effort to preserve individuality, these flaws need to be embraced as personality traits and characteristics that make individuals unique. Sure, there are instances where someone has such severe attention issues that a diagnosis is the best option, but not on such an astronomical scale as characterized by modern society. The best solution to this issue is: technology (surprise!). Somewhere in the future I am certain there will be technologies that make it possible for us to systematically and empirically make diagnoses. Here, using some sort of a brain-scan, doctors can rely less on their fallible judgment and more on the machine to appropriately diagnose and prescribe individuals with proven medical needs. Elimination of human error and a methodical system of diagnosing humans would potentially curb our trend of making too eager of diagnoses, resulting in the less arbitrary distribution of drugs on a grand scale.

      • blackjacket says:

        While I agree with you on most of your response, I take issue with a few points. First, of all, I agree completely that the prescription of these drugs has gotten out of hand. However, I think that doctors prescribe them just as much for the sake of the parents as they do the kids. How often do parents come in complaining that their child is too wired, doesn’t focus, is performing poorly in school? Today, all too often. In fact, I’ve heard of kindergarten and grade school teachers recommending the drugs to parents. The result is that parents are looking for a solution, after all, they are just as sick of their kids restlessness as teachers are.
        The problem that I have is that you are taking away from the value of human intuition. You suggest that at some point technology/machine will be able to do the diagnosing and it will eliminate human error. However, a lot of what doctors diagnose is not engraved in our brains or on our bodies. Sometimes it takes the culmination of relating to the human condition and a gut feeling. I simply take issue with limiting the potential of human beings.

  3. Alec says:

    I agree with the trend that Kevin sees. Part of everyone’s goal in life is to improve themselves. Adderall appears to be a way for some and they take it. If someone’s main argument is that others shouldn’t because it has bad side effects, I don’t think that it is effective. People take destructive recreational drugs that don’t even have any of the “benefits” that Adderall promises. People slam energy drinks without worry about the heart and other problems. People can’t even control themselves from eating that one candy bar when they are on a diet. Why would anyone be expected to take care of themselves in regards to Adderall and the like? They certainly should, and there are a number who do, but the numbers don’t appear to be where they should.

    I certainly don’t see the taking of Adderall as cheating at all. It is not as if Adderall feeds a person answers, they simply are able to focus better upon what they already know. It is merely a less difficult, less disciplined form of developing the ability to focus (excluding those who truly need it). Honestly, everybody has those days where they have trouble focusing, and getting back on track is an art. I don’t approve of Adderall because it doesn’t teach you how to learn, which I see as one of the most important aspects if not the most out of all things to learn in college. In that sense, it is not cheating, but it does cheapen the experience. [However, there are those with ridiculous requirements placed on them, which I do empathize.]

    Personally, I think everyone should start with the basics. Everybody needs to make sure that their body is properly supplied with the correct nutrients. Many people’s bodies are NOT functioning correctly or optimally because they lack what they need for this to happen. It is essentially IMPOSSIBLE to do this with the food that is available, both volume wise and price wise (let’s not talk about that garbage pyramid of the FDA). Because of this, EVERYONE needs to be on a quality multivitamin. Kirkland (Costco) or Centrum brand is better than nothing but that’s still like filling a Ferrari with the same fuel as your weed-whacker. Once you’ve fixed your body chemistry, there is a tripling effect with giving you both better mood and better sleep. Try this, then call me back.

    Beyond simply what was said above, I take Rhodiola 110 for a boost in focus and energy ( It’s an adaptogenic herb that’s been used in Russia for a thousand years. There are no side effects or drug interactions and some have used it for mild ADD as an alternative to drugs (sometimes it is also stacked with Adderall). It is also anti-stress and some recommend it for these anti-aging properties. Feel free to email me at if you want more info, but what I’m trying to say is that at least the negative side effects that drugs like Adderall have do not apply. Is it still an unfair way of getting ahead? I think in its case, I think the harm is absolutely zip unless your family relies on the couple extra dollars it take to buy it to survive (some do, some don’t).

    I do think, even if people suddenly did improve their basic way of living, they would still eventually turn back to looking at drugs to go that extra step. At least eating right and being responsible for your body would sustain itself for a good amount of time due to the mindset that it requires and encourages.

  4. BonnieGiven says:

    1.) I am definitely not a proponent of using cognitive stimulants with out prescriptions. Although it may be overly strong to say this, I do think that using a cognitive stimulant without a prescription is unethical. I believe that doing this is taking a product that was meant for a specific function and manipulating it. Cognitive drugs were originally invented for people who needed them in order to function normally. The text says that “one assesses the risks of the medications with the severity of symptoms of ADHD and decides that it is worthwhile to manage the side-effects if the medication alleviates the symptoms of the disorder”. In other words, people taking these drugs have real problems and it seems like the think about the risks of the medications they are taking more often than those that don’t even need them. I take anti-depressants and realize that, with out them, my life would be more difficult than it already is today. If I knew that people with out a disorder were taking anti-depressants to simply be happier or better their life, I would be extremely frustrated. It is wrong for people to think that should have access to cognitive stimulants just because it is possible for them to get them. It isn’t right to take drugs invented for people who are suffering just to be able to concentrate and get things done. People need to learn that they are in control of their actions and even though it is difficult and maybe inconvenient, it is possible to change one’s study habits so these drugs don’t need to be used. We can’t simply just stop trying and use yet another form of technology to assist us in a process that we have control over.
    2.) I do think that using cognitive stimulants is a form of cheating. I definitely hold more respect for those people who don’t take drugs for school purposes and yet get good grades purely out of hard work in discipline. If someone were to use the excuse that they were just “too busy” to get it all done, they should keep in mind that many people who do the best in school are those who have a lot of different activities on their plate. They have an established sense of time management and know that they have to stick to their schedules. It isn’t fair that those people who are doing all they can to succeed are being viewed as not as capable as those who have decided to use cognitive drugs. One student said that “taking a study drug (should be) no more illegal than taking caffeine. ” However, the difference here is that caffeine was designed for the general public (not those with cognitive disorders) and the side effects of caffeine are minimal compared to those of cognitive stimulants. I hate the thought of people going around priding themselves on their good gpa’s and test scores when they are being facilitated by a drug and not putting the same amount of work and time as those students who see the use of cognitive stimulants for academic purposes unethical. Continuing on, people need to realize that, at some point, one individual is only capable of accomplishing so much. Some people are better at handling more tasks than others and it is an individual priority to find what the maximum level is.
    3.) Using cognitive stimulants for academic purposes is much like “cognitive doping.” Sandberg says that “If the goal of education is a competition for high grades, then the drugs would be a kin to doping and only add an unfair positional advantage to users…” Just how steroids give an unfair advantage to players, cognitive stimulants give an unfair advantage to students. I don’t think the financial issue, although it is important, plays as big of a role here as the morality issue does. Some people, including myself, find the use of cognitive stimulants extremely immoral and wrong. Unfortunately, I am still aware that those who don’t agree with me and are taking drugs for academic reasons have a clear advantage over me.
    4.) I believe that one of the biggest challenges of being a person is having to embrace one’s strengths and weaknesses and dealing with them as best as one can. It is human nature to be distracted during class and to put off assignments until last minute. However, as humans, it is also our job to learn from our mistakes and to take responsibility over the direction of our lives. It isn’t right to just give up and take a drug to fix the problems at hand. Another important part of human nature, as mentioned in the text, is the ability for our minds to wander and conjure up thoughts that wouldn’t be possible under the use of cognitive drugs. Human minds aren’t meant to constantly be in a state of extreme focus. How many times have you caught yourself day dreaming? This is part of human nature and although it may be frustrating and seem like a waste of our time, it is a fact of life. We are humans, not machines, and the more that drugs and other technological advancements invade our life the more I feel our personhood will be taken away from us.
    5.) I do not believe that risks of these medications justify the gains. There are so many side affects listed above such as nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, and cardiac problems. How can people just ignore these issues? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take responsibility for oneself and to fix one’s ability to time manage than to take a drug and risk having these problems? I think that many people have the mind set of “it won’t happen to me” and that they take these drugs very nonchalantly. This is a problem. While I understand that the people see the gains of these medications life-changing and even come to view them as “wonder drugs”, I still don’t believe that the risk of these health issues is worth it. The problems that these drugs are fixing can be altered by human action–they aren’t impossible to change. Why then, would anyone risk having the potential for having any health problem if this is a known fact?

    1.) Societal pressures play a huge role in this debate. Academically, students are very competitive with their peers and want to feel like they can measure up. It is interesting to me how students at the university level are so concerned with how their GPA is when it is well-known that many businesses pay little attention to one’s college GPA during the hiring process. Sometimes I find myself obsessing over a grade and when I step back and think about it I realize that after college my grades aren’t going to have any impact on the direction of my life. Granted, I still always do my best to achieve the highest score I can and still find myself being overly critical of myself when it comes to grades. However, I realize that my success in school is an outcome of my hard work and persistence, and that any scores that I received while taking drugs wouldn’t be my doing. It is unfortunate that the social world is so demanding of individuals today and that we are constantly expected to perform better and better and fit more and more into our daily lives. This is definitely an outcome of technology. Technology has created expectations of humans that are impossible to reach. We are expected to be as efficient as machines. No wonder people feel like the HAVE to take cognitive drugs to amount to anything. It seems that the mindset today is that one should do everything in their power to keep up with our technological world. The future doesn’t look bright for those who wish to embrace their humanity and not subscribe to the use of cognitive drugs or other advancements that are looming around the corner.

  5. Alex G says:

    At first glance, I felt compelled to defend the use of cognitive stimulants, using the same logic as Nicholas Selzter, who said in this article, “Why would you want an upper limit on the capabilities of a human being?” If cognitive stimulants truly allow us to do our work more effectively and efficiently, it seemed they should be used to enhance human capability. As the article points out, their use should not be prevented just because they are drugs and, obviously, are not a natural part of human processing. I also appreciate the argument that, “No one gets very worried if I enhance my eyesight using binoculars, or if I enhance my memory using writing.”, although I would argue that unnaturally altering the brain is fundamentally different than using writing to naturally enhance memory.
    However, after reading this article, I realized that there are many problems with these drugs. Most worrisome is the possibility that cognitive stimulants could become engrained in our society, with employers and expecting or even requiring their employees to use these drugs. In our highly competitive society, if use of cognitive stimulants continues to rapidly expand, it could become so prevalent that its use will be necessary in many circumstances, and required use of these drugs would be an obvious breach of personal freedom. Therefore, even if it is not cheating to use these drugs, their use cannot become a requirement for success in our society.
    Another problem is that we do not fully understand the long-term risks of using these drugs. If their use continues to increase and become a normal part of our society, what will happen to the evolution of our brains and bodies? Our brains might become entirely dependant on these drugs, which wouldn’t necessarily be bad except for the possibility of their benefits being negated by a lack of normal evolution. If our brains get used to these drugs, will they change so that the drugs are no longer effective? We don’t know the answer to all of these questions, making the use of these drugs more dangerous.

    • Molly Quigley says:

      I agree that the more pressing issue of performance enhancing drugs is not whether it is ethical or not, but what its long term effects it could possibly have on the human race as a whole. If these drugs continue to advance, will two different species evolve? Will the human that chooses not use the drugs or cannot get access to it be increasingly outcasted and left in the dust, leaving room for a newer better human? I believe that this is what needs to be considered when we look at performance enhancing drugs in the future

  6. StephieDav says:

    I have a really big issue condoning the usage of these drugs in order to “make us smarter, more efficient, and more productive…” We have computers for efficiency, humans are not meant to operate in these modified ways, if we were we would be naturally equipped with the ability to do so. I really think that we should be wary of using them, not only due to the risks that they may pose to our bodies/brains, but because we may be making the problem worse by not solving it, and just finding ways to get around it. If instead of using pills, people were to devote more of their time to their studies, or say universities stopped increasing the workload expected of students, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to rely on drugs. If I’m a professor, and I’m assigning huge papers the class period before they’re due, and students are actually completing them, it would give me the impression that that is what they are capable of doing. I’m not taking into account how much time the student put into the paper, what they had to give up in order to do it, or whether or not they found it difficult.
    As for the comment made by the student in the medical chat forum, I would say that clearly it isn’t impossible for students to complete a medical program without the assistance of drugs, it was done before those drugs were even available. I think that attributing an individual’s inability to do work, to the difficulty of focusing without being distracted by technology, is a cop out. I’ve found myself clicking away at youtube, or commenting on facebook when I should have been studying, or writing a paper, but in the end is it the computer’s fault that I was distracted, or was it mine? If I was a medical student and my career/future depended on my performance in a class, and I was out socializing instead of studying, then maybe I should reconsider my profession, because clearly I’m demonstrating my lack of devotion. I believe that individuals are responsible for their performance, if you want to do well, you study even at the expense of your social life. Is it unfortunate? Of course it is, but you shouldn’t take drugs to increase your efficiency, so you can go out and socialize.
    Another opinion in the article, states: “People use these medications because they’re lazy, and because they have no study habits. They’re a crutch for people who need a last minute way to get work done, fast.” I find myself sympathizing with this. If you know you have something to do, and you do it at the last minute, you have no one to blame but yourself. In fact, say you take drugs in college, and you get decent grades, and you finally become a doctor. Are you going to take drugs in order to perform well as a doctor? If you can’ t cope with the stress of memorizing all the things you need to memorize for an exam, how will you cope when you’re in the operation room and the person’s life depends on your ability to remember to do everything and do it correctly? Will you be on medication while you’re a doctor as well? Where do we draw the line?
    Nicholas Seltzer brings about a very interesting point when he asks why we wouldn’t want to take medications that would enable a higher intellectual capacity, and a higher level of sophistication in the world. When I was reading this, it reminded me of movies and books like Flowers for Algernon, iRobot, and Brave New World. In Flowers for Algernon, the main character’s intellectual capacity is elevated to the point where he is able to consider advanced sciences, as fundamental knowledge. In the end, he becomes disillusioned with his new-found intelligence, and eventually reverts back to his old self. In iRobot, the robot decides to save the man instead of the child, because an adult has a higher chance of survival. In Brave New World, the original human lifestyle is considered the “savage” way of life, and the more advanced and intellectual population is the “civilized” one. These stories are all examples of a loss of humanity, and the fact that our human mental deficiencies can be temporarily altered, but never fully changed. A robot is unable to realize that a father would give his life up, if it meant his son would live. If we are attempting to reach a higher human level of efficiency, will we at some point act like the robot did? It doesn’t matter if you want to take drugs to increase your productivity, because unless you have the drive to make something happen, you won’t. In the end we will all revert back to being the same, intellectually limited human beings that we have always been, and maybe we should learn to continue to function as such, or progress as such instead of trying to change ourselves to progress.

  7. Kendra Postell says:

    I disagree strongly with Greely’s argument. He is ignoring the fatal side effects that come along with these pills and the possible dependency. Eyeglasses are not addictive and their use does not put you in any medical danger, but a lot of these study drugs come with some very scary side effects. When on a stimulant regimen in the absence of ADD, one needs to take the drugs and continue to take drugs to be able to achieve what a non-drug user can achieve on a regular basis because of their superior study habits. People are becoming dependent on drugs and risking side effects to maintain a level of focus that could have been achieved permanently through practicing better study habits and improving learning skills naturally. People are looking to short-term success rather than to improving their mental abilities for the long run and while these pills may give them a slight advantage now I believe that this short sightedness will cause their success and health to suffer in the future.

    I disagree with the statement that study drugs are “far from cheating, which is getting something that you did not work for” because that is precisely what students who use these drugs are doing. Honest students who have no medical issues or attention deficit problems have to keep themselves up through will power and work very hard to practice and achieve good study habits. As a dedicated studier, I take offence to the fact that someone would liken the studying effort that I, and others like me, have made to the simple action of popping a pill. Instant, “magic” fixes always have their consequences, however, and as I said before I believe that stimulant abusers unfortunately will have to struggle with health and drug dependency problems in the future.

    Not only do I believe that working hard for a grade or to complete an assignment is an essential part of human growth, I believe that those who do not go through this process of challenging themselves will ultimately be less successful than those who do. Getting good grades through stimulant abuse can help one get started on a good career, but in order to be successful in that career, one will need those study habits and that dedication that they bypassed during their educational years. Popping pills and doing assignments last minute may get students the grades that they need but this bad habit prevents them from learning the process of achievement, which is an important tool in future success.

  8. Joshua Dunn says:

    While I outright oppose the idea of taking cognitive stimulants for increased efficiency in the work place and school, I must admit that I find nothing unethical about the practice, and oppose it strictly because of its unknown long-term health effects at this present time. As the article states, “Given that we are essentially the first generation of people who are using these medications so widely and for such long periods of time, the long-term risks are still unknown.”

    While some might consider an artificial boost in attention and focus a method of cheating, I consider it to be a technology that we can utilize to counter the chaotic and disorganized world modern technology has created for us. There’s no doubt in my mind that our modern society is far more anxious, neurotic, and mentally overloaded with the slew of technologies that now occupy our daily lives. These technologies, by overwhelming us with new methods of acquiring information and extracting efficiency, make us less focused on our simplest goals and can even negatively affect our daily routines, even those of us without symptoms of ADD or ADHD. To take these stimulants for practical purposes is not to gain an unfair advantage. It is only to combat the effects of technological determinism, not fuel it.

    I would also like to make a point about the steroid analogy used so often in the article above. While anabolic steroids have been proven to increase the muscle mass of people who take them, there’s been no assertive conclusion as to whether these drugs positively or negatively affect the particular skill set of the athletes who take them. Steroids might make your muscles bigger, but it would be unfair to conclude that they could (ever) help you hit a baseball or shoot a layup. These are learned techniques, studied and practiced to precision. They can not be taught or understood through medical enhancements, at least not yet.

    Despite my position, there was one particular side effect of these stimulants that scared me. Creativity, what I believe to be one of the most important (if not the most important) of human characteristics, is potentially at threat by the continued use of these drugs. I feel as though our society is continually placing efficiency over creativity, so it’s not just these stimulative drugs that are to blame, but the direction of technology as a whole.

  9. Jason says:

    I share the same sentiments as Alec towards this article. Before reading, my opinions on drugs like Adderall were lax. I don’t hold grudges against students who choose to take mind “enhancing” drugs because I don’t believe them to be very enhancing at all. Amphetamines can keep you awake and focused, they don’t automatically make you smarter. In this sense, it is not nearly comparable to cheating. True, one could compare cognitive stimulants to steroids, but steroids give you power and strength without having to put in much physical work. In Adderall’s case, you still need to study. It’s not like you can just take a pill and all of a sudden you know all the right answers. What worries me isn’t the ethical implications of drugs as cognitive stimulants, but as the article stated, what’s beyond that: brain implants. Would individuals who undergo this operation still be considered homo sapien? This argument reminds me of the same moral values as being able to change your child’s genetic sequence in order to “better” them.

    My biggest concern is that we will eventually transform into a society where amphetamine use is expected. I can understand the need for pilots or soldiers to take mind-boosting drugs — they need to stay awake for extended hours or be alert for enemy combat and life or death situations — but is it essential for the workplace?

    Let’s say that at Company X, employee productivity is slowing due to rising distraction. To combat this distraction, employers require the employees to take Adderall daily. This, in my opinion, would be an ultimately bad decision! The employers shouldn’t remedy this problem by trying to straighten wandering minds, they should find the problem at its source. It’s like trying to plug a leaky faucet rather than tightening the valve. Company X should spends its efforts on analyzing where exactly distraction occurs — browsing online, unbusiness-related calls, etc, and limit the freedoms of those areas. Perhaps HR isn’t doing an adequate job of finding employees passionate about Company X’s work in the first place. Patching up the problem as an afterthought never works. It is healthier to diet and exercise than to get liposuction.

  10. rachel says:

    I think we can all agree that college students face enormous academic pressures, especially in such a competitive social setting. Look at SCU’s Business School, for example. Professors sometimes actually have limits on how many A’s to grant to students in their classes. With these rigorous pressures and expectations for performance and output comes means for meeting those expectations—multitasking, time crunching, efficiency, speed, etc. It’s no wonder our attention spans are dwindling at such catastrophic speeds. And it’s not the students’ fault—that’s the thing. The problem lies on a much grander scale. This world is a vicious place. And it’s our job to stay on top.

    So, in a sense, the allure of these medications seems justified.

    But I don’t think students use these drugs just to “get ahead,” or with the intention of promoting and improving the efficacy of their neural brain workings. They use them as a quick fix for an otherwise long-term problem—bad study habits and laziness. From what I’ve observed from my peers who choose to use them, it’s never just a one time thing—do it once, and you’re hooked. Why go back?

    But what I think is the most important aspect of this debate is not what immediate effects these drugs have on a student’s grades, which is arguably variable, but the effects they have on, as Dr. Sean Hatt puts it, “the meaning of our existence.” How does the use of these drugs influence our own conceptions of personhood, and more specifically, natural human qualities, capabilities, and work ethic? In the Stanford article, Greely questions why people wouldn’t welcome new methods of improving brain function. He argues that cognitive enhancement tools “will be increasingly useful for improved quality of life.” But there is no clear, absolute, objective criteria for measuring the quality of life. We all know this.

    I think that we what need to focus on is not how to get a “head up” on every one else. We need to identify and fix the fundamental problem. Running towards artificial, immediate means for desirable academic performance doesn’t make you a better student. It doesn’t make you smarter and it doesn’t make you more successful than your neighbor. These drugs aren’t and shouldn’t be the only or most reliable and effective means of improving brain function. What happened to fundamental human drives like the power of self-reliance, determination, will, perseverance? With the widespread use of these drugs, it seems that we’re sort of suppressing or muting these otherwise natural human capabilities, and therefore suppressing an entire dimension of the mind and spirit.

    Here’s an interesting twist: I wonder if there is a way in which taking these drugs can create an illusion of a medical condition, sort of like reverse placebos. I think the problem with allowing these drugs to be used by mainstream society, rather than confined to patients with specific medical conditions requiring the medication for normal function, is that people who begin relying on the drugs will begin to believe that they, too, have a medical problem that is only fixable through medication.

    So, where ethics comes into question is how this reliance and dependence will manifest itself in places outside the doctor’s office.

    Paradoxically, all of these long term effects are the ones that we have no firm understanding of yet. With all of these new technologies emerging in our generation’s society, it is difficult to anticipate and predict the consequences of their long term use because we have no pre-existing system of criteria that we can use for analysis. How are we to weigh the costs and benefits of the effects of a technology that we haven’t seen the end of?

    As for my view, I’m sort of indifferent to whether or not people choose to use “enhancement” medications for non-medical purposes. If you want to use them, fine. Just know what’s at stake. I certainly don’t use them because I have faith in my intelligence and my ability to produce good, honest work. I don’t need a pill to get a good grade.

  11. Haley Banbury says:

    I think that using cognitive stimulants is comparable to using steroids in athletics—it dampens the awe of natural abilities and natural inclinations. I also think that cognitive stimulants are used as an excuse to not have to be disciplined and focused. I couldn’t agree more that today’s society is bombarded with technology, which has in turn forced society to be constantly multi-tasking. There is something to be said about excelling in academics or in work by setting goals and reaching them with natural determination.
    I am skeptical of using drugs outside of their intended use—serving a specific medical need, such as ADHD. I would rather achieve my accomplishments without cognitive stimulants. I would also not want to risk the health effects possible when using drugs for reasons outside its intended use. Also, I am unconvinced of the effectiveness experienced in non-ADHD users. Overall, I am against using cognitive enhancements. If someone feels they need to use them in order to succeed, they may be better off in evaluating their activities and dedicating more time to academics or rearrange their priorities. Societal pressures are heavier than ever, but I still believe that we, as humans, can reach big achievements by prioritizing and eliminating technological distracters for periods of time without medically enhancing ourselves.

  12. Kate Rawlings says:

    I find the arguments that put forward the idea of stimulants as merely “tools” to be essentially flawed. They completely ignore the fact that other “tools” such as glasses present little to no risk to the person using them. Stimulants may have been found to have positive short term effects for most people, but they have not been studied on the population at large or with a focus on heavy, long-term use. If we allow stimulants to become the equivalent of ibuprofen, there must be some idea of the long term effects of regular use.
    More importantly, though, I believe the widespread acceptance of stimulant usage would degrade the idea of character and personhood. Most people judge themselves on their accomplishments and their hard work. These would be tainted if goals were achieved primarily through the use of stimulants. Moreover, I believe that widespread acceptance could lead to an inability to be productive without the drugs. I, for one, would not want to live in a society where the only important criterion for a job well done is how quickly and efficiently the completion of the task was. Productivity should not be the only virtue in a society.
    With this in mind, I agree that we should ask what kind of environment would produce such a strong desire to improve focus and productivity. These problems do not arise in a vacuum, and many college students feel driven to this because of the sheer amount of things expected of them. I think society should consider the increasing demands placed upon students- to be the top of their class, to have an active social life, to be involved in their community- as part of the problem. Society must decide if strained, ridiculously productive citizens are what it wants to create.

  13. Tina Iguchi says:

    I have heard of students who haven’t been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD claim that Ritalin, Adderall and other drugs help them concentrate, yet there are really no studies done that claim these drugs work on non diagnosed people. So, does this mean that they are simply placebos? Or do they actually work? Although I believe there are risks and dangers that come with non-ADHD diagnosed students taking these drugs, I believe the idea of cognitive enhancing pills are not such a bad idea. Especially in our society today, where exams, tests, and projects are crammed into one week periods of midterms and finals, an extra boost of concentration would be an ideal solution to many students. Yet, until there are studies done and these drugs are deemed safe for students who are not diagnosed with ADHD, I believe students should lay off drugs that they have not been prescribed to them.
    I agree with Kate that while keeping the drug use debate in mind, we must also take a look at our society today and the expectations of young people. Sure, it would be great to be have a social life, be active in sororities/fraternities/clubs, volunteer when you have free time and be number one in your class but honestly? That’s asking far too much but that’s the society we live in today. But, it’s less realistic to expect society to change, therefore the next best thing is to find something to help individuals adapt to society.

  14. geoff klein says:

    With the pressures of today’s society, including pressures to succeed in school, get into graduate programs, and secure the highest level jobs (which are often dependent on grades) students will use any edge that they can to compete at a high level. For some students this is just to stay afloat, and for others it is to go above and beyond what they feel they could do on their own. I agree with the comment that some students are simply lazy and will use cognitive memory enhancers as a shortcut to getting through studying and school. The steroid in sports comparison is also very valid, some people would use them as a shortcut just to get back to the level of the others around them, while other people who are already talented in these areas will take drugs to perform at an even higher level, supplementing their already superior talent to take them above and beyond the level of performance that they would have otherwise. I agree with Tina when she says that the structure of tests, being crammed together, puts more time constraints and pressure on students to perform at a high levels which often causes students to look for shortcuts to help ease the stress that accompany these pressures. It is unrealistic to think that people in today’s society won’t pull out all the stops in order to be successful, and while time management and hard work are preached as the American way to success, today’s society is about instant gratification, and these cognitive memory enhancers serve as a shortcut to success.

  15. QuinnP says:

    As an Engineering major, I have often felt the burden of a large academic load compounded by a quickly approaching deadline. I can easily see the allure that these drugs offer to students, but, for a variety of reasons, I have chosen to complete my schoolwork without the aid of cognitive enhancing medication. I pride myself on this, but at the same time, I can honestly say that I cannot fault others for taking advantage of these drugs to get by in the classroom.

    First of all, I do not see taking using these drugs as unethical. Illegal, lazy, and unwise? Sure, but not unethical. Taking a prescription drug without actually having that prescription written for you is, indeed, illegal, but I cannot fault one for this offense when I frequently consume alcohol as a 20 year old. Partying all weekend and then popping an Adderall to study for that Monday morning final is lazy and quite frankly, stupid, but I can’t say that I haven’t done plenty of lazy and stupid things in my life. Becoming reliant on a drug to navigate the heavy pressure of College is unwise, especially when the imminent trials of a real job, real life and real responsibilities are considered, but I have taken part in plenty of undertakings in recent years that didn’t exactly benefit myself in the long run.

    So why have I chosen to opt not to take these drugs? It’s quite simple. I don’t need it. Such a statement may sound conceited and belittling, but here’s the catch: The vast majority of students don’t need it either. In today’s breakneck world, the “easy way out” seduces students into taking shortcuts that, quite honestly, aren’t necessary. A student who spends the weekend drinking and then backs their decision to take a Ritalin to write their 10 page research paper can’t honestly say that they needed it. They consciously chose to procrastinate, and as I have mentioned before, I cannot fault them for that.

    Now, do I think students abusing prescription drugs to get by is a problem? Of course. But you can’t focus on the students and claim to have found the source of the problem. One has to instead consider why students chose to use these drugs in the first place. But that’s easy, right? Because they’re lazy, of course. If only it were that easy. Instead, where does this laziness come from, and why is it prevalent in what should be our most honest and driven arena? Our focus needs to be shifted from examining the use of these drugs to these questions and the reasons fundamental to this issue.

  16. DBibee says:

    The use of cognitive enhancement is a frightening possibility, and one that could lead to a devastating existence. Perhaps it would seem hyperbolic to purport the creation of a devastating existence, but the use of drugs to enhance cognition is indicative of a dangerous path modern society is beginning to take. We are a society that is obsessed with our things, materialistic and apathetic. We are a culture of convenience that does not consider the ramifications of our actions. The ways of the spirit have been forgotten, pronounced dead with modernity and replaced with the shallow things of this perishing world. Rather than seeking to develop one’s own self-discipline, we are now seeking medical intervention. Not only does this reveal the increasing laziness that is gripping our world, but also a lack of personal value. Perhaps I am wrong, but I see in this a world who does not believe in itself. We do not believe we can achieve by our own hard work but, instead, pray to the gods of pharmacology to produce the necessary chemical effects. Not only do we lack faith in ourselves, but we lack the motivation to make healthy, responsible decisions. We drink until we are throwing up, stay up until early morning, and finish the essay an hour before it is due. Quite frankly, our generation is pathetic. With self-centered attitudes, we go about our foolish lives with an irresponsible sense of entitlement and immortality.

    Where are we going? What is next? If I don’t feel happy, might I simply medicate myself into a chemical euphoria? After all, following similar logic given by the proponents of cognitive enhancement, shouldn’t we be able to embrace the tools necessary to minimize the negative effects of real life? We are becoming an inauthentic people with no real sense of consciousness. We are shallow, underdeveloped, weak, and miserable. It’s no wonder that suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. We have no hope in ourselves, cannot depend on each other, our parents all are divorced, and we are told that God has been dead for years… Nothing is concrete, and any moral foundation that existed in this country is crumbling. We are a hopeless people who can’t even study any more without artificial enhancement. Some say it’s innovation, but I say that it’s a joke.

  17. Shannon Johnston says:

    Evidently, employing drugs to aid in schoolwork is becoming increasingly common in our society today. Since my junior year of high school, I’ve witnessed people utilizing cognitive enhancement to get that extra push to succeed in their work. As disturbing as that fact is, I do not think they were wrong to do it. They were unwise to do so, but not wrong. They found a tool that could help them accomplish their task more efficiently, and used it. The trouble came with the fact that they did not obtain the drugs legally. If the drugs were available legally to those without disorders, it should be the choice of the patient whether or not to take the drug after being fully informed of both its benefits and its consequences.

    It is important to highlight that cognitive enhancement may increase focus, but does not extend the actual intellectual ability of the user. For this reason, cognitive enhancement should not be constituted as cheating because it does not help the user to do anything that they could not physically or mentally do. By that logic, it should not be giving anyone an unfair advantage any more than that of a particularly smart student over the rest of his class.

  18. brennan nacario says:

    The fact that students use cognitive enhancing drugs is not surprising. Once the mainstream discovered the “benefits” of such drugs and the effect it had on persons that it was not meant for, I can imagine its use becoming covertly proliferated with its distribution taking on the same methods that illicit drugs are distributed. I myself do not believe it is ethical or moral to take cognitive enhancing drugs if it is not necessary. For those with diagnosed diseases, I understand the necessity to have these drugs. However, those taking cognitive enhancing drugs solely to improve their academic performance or to finish up (or perhaps start) a last minute term paper are not conducting themselves in a sound ethical manner.

    In a college environment, many students must fight and compete to attain the grade they want. It is not much different from say, a baseball environment. Baseball players fight and compete with their peers to get into the starting lineup and find playing time much in the same that students fight for grades. In baseball, the use of performance enhancing drugs has become notoriously widespread and strict counteractive measures have been taken to ensure that each player enters the ballpark on a level playing field. Cognitive enhancing drugs are no different, in my opinion, than performance enhancing drugs. Both give the user an unfair advantage over the rest of his or her peers. Simply put, users of cognitive enhancing drugs are cheating; they are cheating themselves as well as their peers. Some may say that it is not a form of cheating because the drugs do not directly provide or offer any extra information to the person. While this fact might be true, what cognitive enhancing drugs do give a person is an unnatural state of mental acuity and crystal-clear focus that could not be obtained otherwise. The user is given an unfair advantage over everyone else who does not opt to take the drugs. In an academic setting, especially, it upsets the curve that many classes are graded upon.

    Students understandably resort to outside help when the pressure begins to mount. As finals loom ever closer and deadlines approach inexorably, the potential to cheat and take the easy way out inevitably also climbs. It is up to the individual, however, to ensure that he is keeping up so that he may avoid having to face difficult ethical choices down the road, such as taking cognitive enhancing drugs.

  19. NateMay says:

    Although I have never taken cognitive enhancers, besides the Red Bull or two to stay up to finish a paper, I find no problem with their use by others. My feeling is that they do not make one smarter and thus they do not provide an unethical edge. It has even been shown that the work done on adderal and other cognitive enhancers is not as good as work done normally under ideal time management. It is not as if they are coming up with ideas or learning material that they would not have otherwise as a result of the medication, they are just doing it in a shorter, more focused period of time. They could have done the same thing if they had more time or better time management/study habits, and although that is a life skill they are preventing themselves from developing, it is their choice. To me it only becomes an ethical issue if it is making others score lower by comparison, and that is not the case. For example, if we were to one day produce a drug or an implant that actually made one smarter, more intelligent, able to store more information, then I would be concerned.
    My only problem with cognitive enhancers personaly is the side effects. There have not been any studies on healthy, non-ADHD individuals consumption of such drugs. As Margaret Talbot writes, the effects of these drugs are being discovered “furtively, amongst the increasing number of Americans who are performing daily experiments on their own brains.” Users of these drugs are taking a risk, and I feel before their use they should be informed as to the possible effects, and if they are willing to accept those risks they should be able to take them.

  20. josie says:

    I believe that the use of medications prescribed by a physician to improve cognitive performance in students with a specific medical condition is both appropriate and essential to a student’s academic success. However, the use of these medications to enhance cognitive performance in students who do not have one of these disorders poses serious physical and ethical implications I believe that one of the key goals of education is to prepare students to function in society at large and function optimally within their natural capabilities in the work environment. A student must learn to identify their own strengths and weaknesses in the academic setting and how to achieve their educational goals without the use of performance enhancing drugs. Furthermore, the use of these medications solely to enhance performance in the absence of a medical condition can have serious long-term health consequences. Chronic use of these medications can lead to increasing emotional and physical dependency requiring larger amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. The use of these medications may also become generalized to all aspects of life. In order to be a functional member of society, students who do not have a medical condition requiring these medications need to live without constant use of mind-altering medications. I believe that use of these drugs solely to enhance cognitive performance is ethically wrong and may ultimately distort the individual’s perception of right and wrong.

  21. Graden Rea says:

    One of my favorite authors Phillip K. Dick, used amphetamines. Many of his novels reveal his paranoia and schizophrenia caused by these drugs. Without the influence of these drugs his novels would not have been nearly as interesting, but he would have probably had a happier life. Drugs are a tradeoff, and the user must decide whether the benefits are worth the risk. Even though I don’t take these drugs, I don’t see any reason why someone should be unable to make that choice for themselves. Society shouldn’t decide what a person can and cannot do unless that person is harming other people. These people do not harm other students, because other students have the exact same choices as the drug users; being responsible and staying up on work, or falling behind and taking drastic measures.

    Amphetamines side effect include irritability, anxiousness, and worse of all, it increases libido and causes erectile dysfunction. If someone believes that the benefits are worth the risks, he/she can go ahead and use them.

  22. Jim says:

    Anyone ever hear of a thing called a balanced diet.

    Cocaine is good for creativity, lsd is good for visual stimulation, marijuana users swear by the relaxation it provides and boozers enjoy the freedom to finally let their inhibitions go… yeah, it is what we need, more dope.

    Excuse my uneducated response… but obviously, this Greely got his in a sugar cube.

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